r/AskHistorians checks the veracity of Eminem lyrics

One of the greatest things to come out of this series of tubes we call the internets is r/AskHistorians:


On his 2000 album "The Marshall Mathers LP", Eminem writes in "The Real Slim Shady" that a lot of imitators have popped up after his debut. Were there a lot of Eminem soundalikes or lookalikes that got attention from major record labels during that period of time? (1999-2000)

The best I remember of Eminem is that he wanted the real 'Slim Shady' to 'please stand up.'

A historian naturally was standing by the help out:

hillsonghoods·14hModerator | 20th Century Pop Music | History of Psychology

Thanks for linking that and alerting me to the question! To save a click, here's the text of what I wrote in response to that previous question:

It's an odd song. Wikipedia suggests (and is usually right about this kind of thing) that 'The Real Slim Shady' was released in April 2000, barely a year after 'My Name Is', Eminem's breakthrough single (released in January 1999). In that time period, as far as I can tell, I don't think very many white rappers emerged, who one might describe as the 'fake Slim Shadys' that Eminem spends much of the song railing against.

The closest would be Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit; 'Nookie', Limp Bizkit's breakthrough single, was released in June 1999. However, by 1999, Limp Bizkit had already received some airplay for singles off their 1997 album Three Dollar Bill, Y'All – in particular their cover of 'Faith' by George Michael – and they were seen as very much in the mould of an emerging 'nu-metal' genre, which usually featured a rap-metal hybrid based on the model of Rage Against The Machine and refined by Korn.

Fred Durst in 1999 was all about a red cap rather than bleached blonde hair, but you can hear a certain resemblance between his voice and Eminem's; they're both white rappers with quick fire delivery and relatively high pitched, nasal voices (unlike, say, Vanilla Ice, who had a deeper voice and slower delivery). In Fred Durst's style I do detect a lot of white rappers as influences – there's a bit of the Beastie Boys in him (there's occasional group vocals to emphasise the end of a phrase, that group's hallmark) and there's a House of Pain/Cypress Hill vibe at times. Eminem's style is more consciously indebted to black rappers than Durst's is; one suspects Durst may well have not known about Dre in the first place. 1^

The other white rapper who Eminem may be referring to is Jimmy Pop of the Bloodhound Gang, whose song 'The Bad Touch' was released in September 1999 (and the chorus of which Eminem references in 'The Real Slim Shady' – 'of course they gonna know what intercourse is by the time they hit fourth grade, they got the Discovery Channel, don't they?'). Like Limp Bizkit, the Bloodhound Gang had been prominent for a little while before 'The Bad Touch'; they had something of an alternative rock hit with 'Fire Water Burn' in 1996; while Jimmy Pop's voice as a rapper is deeper than Eminem's and characterised by a very deadpan style, there are similarities between their schticks; Jimmy Pop's lyrics brim with skewered pop culture references ('the drummer from Def Leppard's only got one arm' is chanted in one single) from an outsider perspective.

By and large the milieu Eminem is reacting to on 'The Real Slim Shady' is the Total Request Live era of MTV (perhaps the last point when MTV had much influence on American pop music). By this stage – 1998-1999 – MTV was in the process of transitioning more heavily to non-music programming, but Total Request Live was music focused, and teen-focused, playing the most requested songs of the day. Because of the competing demographics of music listeners in this era, TRL had a now quite odd-sounding mix of bubblegum pop directed at female teenagers – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys – and angrier fare directed at South Park-obsessed male teenagers, including Korn, Limp Bizkit and Eminem.

The lyric in 'The Real Slim Shady' which mentions Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and then in quick succession mentions Fred Durst and (Total Request Live host) Carson Daly is very obviously a reference to the popularity and influence of Total Request Live.

It's probably fair to say that Eminem's pretty rapid success in 1999 after 'My Name Is' – that first major label album featuring 'My Name Is' debuted on the charts at #2, barely a month after that first single was released – might have meant there was more space in pop culture for a Fred Durst or Jimmy Pop, but I think it's a little unfair to say they were Eminem imitators. More shameless Eminem imitators were – outside of Eminem videos aimed at Total Request Live – fairly thin on the ground in the period between 'My Name Is' and 'The Real Slim Shady'; usually, unless they're already on the record company books, it takes a year or two for a major label record company to find and groom an act and then to promote a single to the extent that it gets notice; the time between 'My Name Is' and 'The Real Slim Shady' simply was not long enough for Eminem imitators to emerge.

Instead, 'The Real Slim Shady' is best seen more as one big boast: 'I'm so successful, everyone is trying to imitate me!', and as yet another Eminem song focusing on authenticity. Eminem was well aware of his fairly weak claim to hip-hop authenticity, being a white guy who didn't grow up selling drugs in the Bronx, or whatever. Many of his moves – working with Dr. Dre, the meant-to-appear-semi-autobiographical 8 Mile movie, the gleefully rude/in-bad-taste lyrics – were trying very hard to establish authenticity (all the while writing lyrics with deliberately unreliable narrators, a centuries-old poetic device, and while prominently having this odd tripartite personality, where some tracks/albums were Marshall Mathers, some were Eminem and some were Slim Shady.) And saying he's the 'Real' Slim Shady is simply another way to establish his bona fide claim to his particular corner of hip hop.

1^ (This is a reference to 'Forgot About Dre', a Dr Dre track largely written by Eminem and featuring a cameo by Eminem, which focuses on the mistake made by many: forgetting about former NWA member, solo artist and Snoop Dogg producer Dr Dre, who also happened to play a production role on several key Eminem tracks)